While the world was focused on his split from Katy Perry, Robert Pattinson was quietly taking on two of the biggest cultural phenomena of our time: Batman and “Deepfake” videos.

First, Batman. Back in October, rumors started circulating that the British actor had been spotted on set of the highly anticipated movie, alongside director Matt Reeves. People also compared Pattinson’s intense focus during the filming to that of a seasoned actor, which fueled more speculation. Was he being trained by Kevin Spacey, who plays the modern version of the character? Was Reeves even going to give him a chance at being the Caped Crusader, at least as a bit part?

It seems like a long time coming. Since Christopher Nolan introduced us to the Dark Knight in 2008, fans have waited with bated breath to see how Robert Pattinson would pull off the iconic role. Would he be able to embody everything that was good and terrifying about the World’s Greatest Detective?

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, let’s take a look at Batman’s other big rival: Deepfake videos.

Deepfake Videos And The Rise In Popularity

As the name suggests, deepfake videos are sophisticated videos that are edited to look like a real person is saying or doing something that they never actually said or did. It is a form of video manipulation that allows users to easily and quickly forge videos to fit virtually any narrative.

The technology behind deepfake videos was made popular through TikTok, which recently surpassed 500 million monthly active users. And just like that, deepfake videos went from obscure software to mainstream phenomenon.

But it wasn’t just the viral success of TikTok that made deepfake videos famous. The Verge pointed out that TikTok’s success came at a time when people were looking for authenticity in their online content. People simply wanted to be sure that what they were seeing was actually what the person or character being portrayed in the video was saying or doing.

In the past, people would record their own videos and add music to them later. Now, with the rise of affordable and easy-to-use video editing platforms like TikTok, people can simply type in a script and have a video ready to go in no time. Or, if they don’t have a video camera, they can use one of the millions of online cameras to capture video footage and edit it as desired.

The Rise In Awareness

TikTok’s success made the relatively unknown issue of video manipulation famous. Before the coronavirus pandemic, people were just learning about this issue through media coverage and major news events. Now that more people are working from home, the issue has become significantly more prominent. Deepfake videos have been used to great effect in political ads in the United States and United Kingdom. But the most prominent and viral examples come from TikTok itself.

In early 2020, several popular videos on TikTok caused people to question whether or not they were real. One of the most recognizable videos was James Charles’ “Good Morning Britain” parody, which mimicked an overly made-up and fluffed-up version of ex-Prime Minister David Cameron’s traditional news clip. What made this video remarkable is that James Charles is a British-African model and singer who usually posts videos about fashion and beauty. In this case, he used his video platform to call out political hypocrisy.

Other famous faces have also been exposed to be using deepfake technologies in an attempt to trick the audience. In 2019, singer Kelly Clarkson was the victim of a fake video tweeted by actor Billy Bob Thornton. In the video, he made her appear to say some extremely vulgar and abusive things about herself while recording it. She eventually learned that the entire thing was staged and that the comments were actually targeted at another celebrity. Still, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the perils of social media and the danger of not verifying the facts behind a story before sharing it.

As the Covid-19 pandemic loomed, businesses and governments around the world recognized the power of social media to disseminate essential information during the pandemic. The volume of content on social media platforms increased exponentially as people looked to digital spaces for news and information. And, as a result, people became more aware of the issue of deepfakes and began to demand more authenticity from online content creators.

Deepfakes And The Impact On Society

There are several ways that deepfakes have been used in recent years to great effect. The first and most prominent of these is in political ads. In the United States, the 2018 midterm elections were the first time that videos of someone saying something were used to promote candidates. One notable example is an ad from the Democratic party that featured the recording artist Moby saying, “I hope that every woman who is listening to this ad listens carefully. Because if she doesn’t, she might end up with Donald Trump as the next president.”

In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party used both deepfakes and video editing software to great effect in an attempt to defeat Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the upcoming election. Many of the videos used humor and quirky editing styles to great effect, but they also played on people’s fears about the pandemic and the role that Jeremy Corbyn had played in the mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak. When challenged about his suitability for office, Corbyn had initially claimed that he was not a robot and that the videos were doctored to make it seem like he was saying vile and abusive things about the United Kingdom. After several videos were posted, he backtracked and admitted that yes, some of the videos were edited to make him look bad.

Whether or not you support the Conservative or Labour parties, the use of these technologies in political ads is becoming a common sight. And, as the issue of deepfakes has begun to permeate popular culture, people are realizing that what they’ve seen on social media isn’t necessarily what’s been going on all along. Or, as an infamous tweet from Donald Trump put it, “[Deepfakes are] very convincing and can fool people, even experts.”

Is “Deepfake” A Thing Of The Past?

No, it’s not. At least not yet. While the volume of political ads using deepfakes has dropped off, the prevalence of these videos on social media has not.

In fact, TikTok recently removed several accounts that were using deepfake technologies to make videos look like popular personalities. Following this, Twitter also removed several accounts that were using similar techniques. While it is still possible to find these videos on TikTok and Twitter, they have become significantly less prominent. And, as a result, we can probably assume that they won’t be as effective in spreading false information now that the public is more aware of the issue.

On the other hand, celebrities and public figures who have been spoofed on TikTok have started to fight back. James Charles posted several videos accusing TikTok of removing his parody videos while he was in talks with the company, and the star filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Still, the singer maintains that he doesn’t regret doing any of his parodies and that he simply wants to ensure that the platform doesn’t “misuse” its considerable power.

And the list of famous faces that have been spoofed on TikTok continues to grow. In early 2021, it was reported that the platform had over 70 million users who were willing to part with their personal information in exchange for additional features and easier access to popular content. In response, TikTok introduced a new “Verified” badge, which allows users to identify content that is original and has not been tampered with. While this certainly reduces the effectiveness of deepfakes as a whole, it also means that there are plenty of new opportunities for content creators to use this technology to great effect.

What Can We Do To Ensure Truthful And Authentic Content?

Well, there are several things that you can do to make sure that you are getting the full story behind a story, whether it’s fake or real. First, follow the source. Second, ask questions. Third, do some research. Fourth, verify claims. Fifth, look for patterns. And finally, trust your instincts.

These are all things that you can do to determine the authenticity of a story, regardless of whether or not you believe it to be true. The more you know, the better you can prepare yourself to defend yourself against false news stories and information.